My Name Is Tom.
written by Laurence Robinson
I stood on the riverbank, looking out onto the river. I remember the boat, the bridge, and the sudden stop when I hit something. I don’t remember how I got here. Standing, blinking into the sun. It was a lovely sunny day to be out here, a fine day; everyone was having so much fun.
We had put the boat into Kalum River at the boat launch. It had been frustrating watching the boaters fumbling at the dock, taking up our valuable vacation time. This was my first time on the rivers around Terrace but I had lots of fishing time out on the ocean. At thirty seven, I knew what I was doing on the water, not like others who are still fussing about with their boats.
Our turn finally arrives and we swiftly and professionally slid the boat into the Kalum River. The pickup, parked with its trailer, ready to return to the boat launch.
Why aren’t I wet?
There were seven of us in the boat. We have life jackets, I’m not stupid. But the day is really warm and the jackets are sticky, so they stay off but are kept handy. We enjoy the sun and the wind. I carefully steer the river boat, a new one I brought from a local man who builds these, down the Kalum past the other boaters to where the Kalum River joins the Skeena River. Some boats are going downstream, fishing rods already into their holders. But we turn upstream, into the current. I open the throttle and the boat starts to plane. Up we go, past the treatment ponds, around the corner, past Queensway road to the right of us off the river, then we head towards the New and the Old Bridges.
Under the new bridge we head, I increase speed to go through the opening under the old bridge. Before we get there, I feel and hear a thud. I pitch forward and go over the wheel as the nose of the boat digs into the river current. I hear screams but all I feel is surprise as I hit the water.
Again I wonder, why am I dry? I look around once more.
Where is everyone?
I recognise where I am. This is New Remo south of Terrace.
How did I get here?
There are people fishing off the train tracks. I call out to some of them but get no response. This is annoying. I try to move but can’t.
Where are the others that were in the boat with me? My wife Mary, who had a rye and coke in her hand when I last saw her? Ted, my son, and Jacklyn my daughter? The first eager and the second grumpy when I persuaded them to come.
Why aren’t they here with me?
And our friends, Will and Rita, always ready for a laugh? Their pretty fourteen-year-old daughter Betty, who had such a crush on me? At least Mary teased me about it.
I looked again towards Terrace.
Why couldn’t I move?
I saw someone, a man, walking on the railroad tracks towards me. My feet began to move and I walked toward him.
“Hello,” It felt so inadequate.
“Hello yourself, Nigel.” He smiled, a knowing smile.
“No one calls me that. They call me Tom.” The answer came automatically. I had always hated the name my parents gave me at birth.
He smiled again and I realised that I was talking in perfect English with a German youth. One dressed in the traditional dress of that people. Bavarian, you know, the shorts with suspenders; I think that’s what it was.
I had seen the picture years ago in the local paper. He had died because he was fooling around in the boat and fell in the water. They both jumped in trying to save him.
Drowned, of course. You don’t mess with the Skeena.
I remembered this because I was about the same age as him when it happened.
“You must pay a price, the same as I did. You are twice the age I was when I cost the lives of my father and uncle on this same river. There were six with you in your boat. You must walk the banks of the Skeena River for six times your age.”
Did that mean I would have to stand here for two hundred and twenty two years?
“Not just stand here. You may venture downriver to a point where you can go no further. The same for upriver.” He shrugged, “It does not matter.”
“It doesn’t matter? It matters a lot to me! And how can you read my mind?” I was angry and confused.
“I cannot, however your face and stance were easy to read.” A look from his face said everything.
Another thought came to mind. “How come we can speak in English? Did you learn it in your school?”
Again the smile, it was annoying. “Not in my academy. I hear you in High German, I cannot imagine that you are fluent?”
“I don’t understand any of this. Why do I have to stay here and why are you telling me this? I lead a good life. I even go to church. And what happened to my wife and kids?”
“Your recklessness has placed you here. Driving your boat in such a manner, without wearing life jackets, you condemned yourself to this.”
He turned and looked over the river. “As for those who were on the boat with you, only your son survived. For a time.” He paused. “You were found here.” The look of sympathy on his youthful face said it all; and tore at my heart.
I fell to my knees. The weight of his words were devastating.
My wife, my children. All dead?
I didn’t think of the others: of Will, Rita and Betty. At least not right now…
“I have one more thing to tell you. You will spend your time here. After you have done so, one will come to replace you. You may have to wait for some time. Then you will know what to do as I now know.”
He turned away and took several steps. Then turned back. “Goodbye Nigel, I wish you well.” He vanished.
He had never said his name, which I had forgotten to ask for.
Then it came to me: I’m alone.
“My Name Is Tom.” I screamed.
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